You could say we’re enjoying something of a space renaissance within the wonderful world of gaming. But with all the talk of late revolving around the release of the highly divisive No Man’s Sky (if ever there was a case for not pre-ordering…) and the encouraging new gameplay footage recently showcased by the ever-elusive Star Citizen, it’s easy to forget that Elite: Dangerous, the latest game in the original open-world space franchise, is well into its second year of full release and still going strong.
Reminding people that Elite: Dangerous does in fact still exist, British developer Frontier Developments used their platform at this year’s Gamescom to unveil some of the interesting features and tweaks coming in the next big update. Known as The Guardians (or Elite: Dangerous 2.2), highlights include passenger travel and tourism, ship-launched fighters, vessel transfer and module storage, the SIN broker, space installations and revamped port interiors, and improvements to galaxy and system maps.
Yes, Elite: Dangerous fans will finally have a reason, beyond pure whimsy that is, for adding the much under-utilised Orca to their fleet – ferrying passengers across the procedurally-generated galaxy. Not that other ships won’t be able to install cabins, though only dedicated liners will have the capacity for larger parties and be able to provide the standard of luxury insisted upon by some VIPs. And if the Orca isn’t big enough for you, then FD are also introducing the sleek and opulent-looking Beluga. Quite literally a whale of a ship 🙂
Basic passenger missions look like they’ll play out similarly to standard courier jobs, effectively substituting people for cargo. However, we’re told that passengers may choose to disembark at the next starport you visit if the journey is taking too long. Or, more drastically, bail using the ship’s escape pods if they become too frightened or agitated, with either scenario leaving you without payment.
Well-heeled VIPs may suddenly demand scenic detours via galactic beauty spots or even conflict zones, which should liven things up. Feeding into this and bringing fresh lore to the game will be the Pilot’s Federation’s “sites of importance”. Not only will you be to use these to entertain passengers, but Commanders will be able to scan and investigate for a reward.
Far more excitingly though, The Guardians update will enable larger vessels to be fitted out with ship hangers, thus allowing the deployment of small but dedicated fighter craft to provide combat support. Commanders will be able to directly control the fighters themselves by neural link, which could be very effective in combination with a turreted and heavily-shielded mother ship.
Alternatively, NPC pilots can be hired at starport crew lounges. Each of these stick jockeys will have their own backstories and levels of ability. Better pilots will cost more to hire and take a bigger cut of your profits, but they’ll all improve over time with experience. Dutifully, unlike their cowardly employers, these guys do go down with the mother ship and will need to be replaced, though it wasn’t clear from what I read or saw if they also die when only their fighter is taken out.
The beauty is you can switch between control of the main ship and the NPC-flown fighters at any time, as well as issue them with simple orders and assign priority targets. The fighters themselves come in three flavours – the Federal F63 Condor, the Imperial Fighter, and the independent Taipai, each having multiple loadout possibilities. The crafts will be low cost and can even be constructed on board if you have the necessary resources available.
Personally, I can’t wait to try these little babies out. From the footage I’ve seen, they look a heck of a lot of fun to fly. They certainly should add a little more depth and excitement to combat, as well as providing a useful defensive option for freighters and mining vessels travelling all on their lonesome. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the pilots are actually voice-acted, which should add to the general immersion. Though I’ll be gutted if I don’t hear a “we’re in the pipe, five by five” or “coming around for a seven zero niner”.
At a more practical level, FD are finally implementing the much-requested and quite frankly long overdue ability to transfer unused ships between starports. The process will be instantaneous (not sure how the lore will explain that one!), but the fee will be calculated based on distance and vessel type.
And as a bonus, you’ll now also be able to store and transfer modules under a similar system. This means that Commanders will be free to change their loadouts without throwing away all the considerable time and effort they put into modifying their components. Still no word on naming ships or storage of Engineer-specific commodities, but the above changes should certainly make life easier for most Commanders.
Another fan-appeasing change will be the introduction of the SIN Broker. Found at starports in low security systems, these contacts will allow players to pay off fines, claim bounties, and hand in combat bonds that relate to any system or jurisdiction. For a fee, of course.
In addition, other quality-of-life improvements include some helpful tweaks to navigation. Not only are FD adding in new filters to the galaxy map, but you’ll also be able to apply these in real time to the route plotter. These include star class (useful for fuel scooping explorers), security level, and system state (e.g. war, boom/bust, unrest, etc.). The system map will now also provide full 3D representations of planetary surfaces including key geographical features and allow Commanders to target specific locations. And you’ll be presented with system summaries on the cockpit HUD prior to jumping.
Lastly, not only will you be seeing new installations dotted around the bubble, but starports will be getting a revamp. Additional orbital structures will include things like comms arrays, illegal hideouts, capital ship docks, and prisons. And they’ll feature appropriate traffic such as traders, pirates, or military vessels and provide the potential for obtaining valuable materials and cargo. It’s not evident whether you’ll be able to dock at any of these, I’m guessing not, but at least systems will be a bit less same-y.
Furthermore, FD have called in the interior decorator for their starports. Internally they will now reflect the wealth and economy of the locality. You’ll be seeing things like crops growing in agricultural economies, smelting machinery in refineries, holograms and sophisticated gadgetry in tech environs, and extravagant follies and landscaped gardens in tourist destinations. I must say, the new designs do look impressive, and it’s certainly an improvement over having just two interior variants, especially as one of them is relatively uncommon!
Oh yeah, and there were more teasers about aliens, including ruins and archaeology to be discovered, as well as talk of a roadmap being put in place for volcanism and landings on atmospheric planets, and the possibility of a new human bubble emerging around the incredibly remote Jaques station. Though as you’d expect, this was all a bit vague and very unlikely to be part of The Guardians update. Still, it’s exciting stuff and looks good for the long-term future of Elite: Dangerous.
All-in-all, The Guardians promises to be a significant and worthwhile update. I’m certainly more enthusiastic about this than I was for The Engineers. Presumably, the main gameplay aspects will only be coming to Horizons owners, though it’s hard to imagine that those with just the base game won’t also be seeing many of the visual and quality-of-life improvements.
There’s currently no word on when The Guardians update will launch (possibly in the autumn?). However, as usual, those with beta access will be able to test the changes in a separate build a couple of weeks prior to it going live.